Photographs and Story By Steve Novotney
A Wheeling organization has gained the support of the federal government – top Appalachian Regional Council, the USDA, the EPA, and local officials gathered at the Wheeling Artisan Center in downtown Wheeling to announce a new partnership. The Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation, Grow Ohio Valley, and Reinvent Wheeling are one of the winners of the interagency Local Foods, Local Places competition.
The ReInvent Wheeling proposal was one of more than 300 received by federal officials, and the Friendly City will now become one of 26 American communities to be involved. The grant is for technical assistance, and does not include a monetary value.
The partnership was selected for its plan to transition the area of Grandview Avenue into a productive public asset and regional hub for local foods such as apples, blueberries, brambles, and assorted specialty foods. The two sides of Wheeling Hill will be utilized as growth areas with the east face featuring an orchard with as many as 1,000 apple trees, and the west face will offer a “teaching farm” for children and adults.
The “teaching farm” area will be visible from the streets of downtown Wheeling.
The west-side grow area involved with the Grow Ohio Valley’s project can be seen from the street of downtown Wheeling, and will offer local citizens a “teaching farm” in the future.
“We are extremely excited to have won this award and to be working on how we do some of the new initiatives that Grow Ohio Valley has been working on,” said ReInvent Wheeling’s Jake Dougherty. “And we will also focus on the revitalization of the urban neighborhoods we have here in the downtown.
“It’s a big project and it took a lot of partners to make this happen,” he said. “Every time we have been successful here in Wheeling, though, major partnerships have been made to make it all work, and this is another example of that success.”
Jeremy Morris, executive director of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp., addresses the gathering attending the national press conference at the Wheeling Artisan Center Thursday afternoon. Federal, state and local officials revealed that Ohio Valley Grow’s partnership with ReInvent Wheeling was awarded a technical assistance grant from the federal government.
The land involved was once the location of public housing on both the east and west sides. While the east hillside is owned by the Wheeling Housing Authority, the west face of the hillside is still owned by the historic Zane family and is on loan to the city of Wheeling. The city is not permitted to sell the property to a private developer, but it does have the ability to lease the land for public use.
“This serves as confirmation of the kinds of things we have going here in Wheeling concerning local food, with downtown revitalization, and with the fact that real people from throughout the county and with the federal government believe in those efforts,” said Brandon Holmes of Grow Ohio Valley. “It should also prove to everyone that this project and the city of Wheeling can be a model for the rest of the country.
“These projects will be tied to downtown Wheeling because of the incredible asset that these hillsides represent,” Holmes continued. “Since the location is so close to the downtown core, it just makes sense to tie the downtown and this park-like area together so everyone in the area can enjoy both. If we are successful with combining these two things, it will give people even more of a reason to want to live here.”
Grow Ohio Valley operated several farmers’ markets in Wheeling the past two years, including a “mobile market” that was implemented this year so that the initiative could reach out to citizens living in the Friendly City’s high-rise apartment buildings. The organization operated several grow areas, including “Farm 18” on 18th Street in East Wheeling.
“The idea of the ‘teaching farm’ is to get people used to growing their own food,” said Grow Ohio Valley’s Danny Swann. “We would like to get into the kids’ heads that growing their own food is just a part of life. It’s just something you do. It’s not a weird thing that you do once on a field trip. It should be something that we do and something that should be a part of your downtown, and it also should be a part of lives.”
Grow Ohio Valley and ReInvent Wheeling will now work with local officials and the involved federal agency to finalize the designs for both hillsides. The federal officials will also offer their guidance as to how these properties can be used for agriculture.
“What we’ll be doing in the near future is how we make all of this possible and how we put all of these pieces in place to get this done,” said Dougherty. “What this announcement represents is the chance for all of these moving parts that have been working hard over the past several years to start forming into what Wheeling really can be.
Ken Peralta, executive director of Grow Ohio Valley, referred to Wheeling as a, “world-class city,” during his address at Thursday’s press conference.
“This grant is more about assets than a dollar amount to us here in Wheeling,” he continued. “The overall initiative involves about $650,000 that will be invested into the selected communities, and we expect that to open up opportunities for others to get involved in others ways.”
Grow Ohio Valley has featured many volunteers since its inception, and that will likely continue when it comes to the redevelopment these property parcels, according to Holmes.
“Volunteers are great, and they do an incredible amount of work, but it does take money to accomplish some things,” he said. “One of the reasons why we are so pleased with this grant is that now we will have the chance to figure out what we do need to do to make all of this happen.
“We will now have available the technical expertise we need to be able to stabilize the hillsides and other things similar to that,” Holmes said. “We grow food. That’s what we do at Grow Ohio Valley. We’re not in the hill-stabilization business, but that’s the kind of assistance we will receive from these federal agencies that are now involved.”
The federal agencies will also offer guidance when the time arrives for Grow Ohio Valley to seek additional grant funding both locally and nationally. Technical assistance through the Local Foods, Local Places program will permit the Wheeling-based partnership to achieve its immediate goals. The long-term goal is to make Wheeling a regional “hub” for local food, and to transition this area of Wheeling Hill into a public food, flower, and exercise park.
“Ideally, we would like to see the dirt start moving in the springtime,” Swann said. “But one of the first things we need to do is clear the land when the weather changes, and then we’ll go from there.
“This is not just the opportunity to have a garden in a meadow,” he said. “There is an Appalachian hardwood forest that’s been growing right here in downtown Wheeling, and we now have an opportunity to do something very positive with it.”